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CTFA: The Kavanaugh Way

WASHINGTON — Ed Kavanaugh, with a copy of the latest Mary Kay biography, "More than a Pink Cadillac," on his office coffee table, seems a bit nostalgic about the beauty industry and his more than two decades at the helm of its professional...

WASHINGTON — Ed Kavanaugh, with a copy of the latest Mary Kay biography, “More than a Pink Cadillac,” on his office coffee table, seems a bit nostalgic about the beauty industry and his more than two decades at the helm of its professional association.

“It’s God, family, Mary Kay,” said Kavanaugh, recalling a Mary Kay annual meeting he attended that was more like a revival, a memory swathed in her trademark pastel pink.

In an interview, Kavanaugh, president and ceo of the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, said he has seen a wave of cosmetics industry innovators since joining the association in 1972 and becoming its chief 10 years later. Kavanaugh has watched the industry become more global and major players consolidate while steering CTFA as it tackles U.S. and foreign government cosmetics regulatory schemes that would affect labeling, taxing and testing of everything from eyeliner to shampoo.

At 61, Kavanaugh is approaching retirement age, but he brushes aside speculation he’s ready to make his passion of golf a full-time game. “I’m here for the foreseeable future,” he said, rethinking his answer. “I’ll put it this way. God willing, I’ll be in Boca next year and we’ll go from there,” referring to CTFA’s annual meeting in Boca Raton, Fla.,which got under way Thursday.

It seems fitting that Kavanaugh isn’t ready to relinquish CTFA’s top job since this summer he scored his first hole-in-one. The event occurred in Sun Valley, Idaho, at a distance of 130 yards. For 15 years, CTFA has been a sponsor of the Danny Thompson Golf Tournament there, a fund-raiser for leukemia research and named after the Minnesota Twins infielder who died of the disease in 1976.

“I wasn’t using my usual swing,” Kavanaugh said of his uphill drive that sent the ball into the cup. In fact, his style was crimped that day by a flare-up of his bad back of 10 years. Moreover, his golden moment of triumph cost him two more herniated discs.

But Kavanaugh isn’t complaining, or displaying association executive moxie. He is trim and fit, and the bad back is something he tackles religiously with 20 minutes of targeted exercise each morning, a brace and occasional cortisone injections. A full head of fluffy white hair and a flawless complexion, Kavanaugh is the picture of a beauty industry chieftain but he admits to being under no pressure to be beautiful. “Probably whatever I was doing I’d look the same. It’s inner driven,” he said.

This story first appeared in the February 28, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The CTFA and its $15 million budget continues to operate in the black — no small feat for an industry association in this down economy. It’s an unbroken record in Kavanaugh’s tenure during which the organization has grown to 38 employees from 11. He attributes the association’s success to having senior executives only on its board (“Their bottom line is very simple and they don’t interfere on a day-to-day basis,” Kavanaugh said) and a staff of longtime employees, several of whom came from cosmetics-regulating agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission.

Kavanaugh said the association’s sliding dues structure has contributed to keeping CTFA in the black. Dues are based on member sales and range from $495 on sales of $250,000 or less to a cap of $250,000 for companies with $1.5 billion or more in sales. Although dues are lost when large companies consolidate, Kavanaugh said some of the money is recouped as smaller company sales increase. “Two thirds of our members have sales of less than $1 million,” he said.

While dues go toward such things as industry education and ingredient safety research, much of the money is used to keep tabs on and influence government regulation affecting cosmetics.

Although the Bush administration, as a Republican White House, may be laissez-faire in general toward regulating business, there have yet to be signs at the Food and Drug Administration — with cosmetics oversight — of a hands-off approach.

The CTFA is hoping the agency will finally answer the association’s call to allow use of carbon black in cosmetics, which has been banned for years out of safety fears that Kavanaugh said industry tests have proven unfounded. The association also wants the agency to quell any lingering concerns about the safety of alpha hydroxy acid face treatments by issuing a requirement for labels on AHAs to recommend sunscreen use.

In Europe, Kavanaugh said the CTFA, working with its European Union counterpart COLIPA, is still hoping to reshape a new animal-testing ban for consumer products approved last year and being phased in through 2013. As an EU success for CTFA, Kavanaugh points to a fragrance-allergy regulation approved last year that rejected the idea of warning labels in exchange for fragrances being included in ingredient lists. In addition, Kavanaugh said a new EU product-dating regulation rejected an original proposal that required expiration dates. Instead, the final regulation imposes a standard of “period of use after opening.”

On the state level back in the U.S., where local officials are hungry for revenue, the CTFA is hoping to amend a user fee recently passed by the California state assembly for companies selling consumer products like aerosols that emit volatile organic compounds. The state, like several others, has already forced companies to reduce ozone-killing VOC’s. Now the California Air Resource Board wants to tax consumer product companies based on the daily consumption of their VOC-containing products.

“In California the bigger companies selling a lot of products, the user fee is going to be over $500,000 a year. That doesn’t sound like much, but year after year it is,” Kavanaugh said.

On the home front, with the economy teetering and terrorism alerts casting uncertainty among consumers, Kavanaugh declines to enter the fray whether the U.S. should lead a war against Iraq, but he is concerned about the downturn.

“There’s an unease obviously and people are worried,” said Kavanaugh, who hasn’t bought duct tape and plastic per the Bush administration’s initial advice to seal homes against bioterrorism attacks. “This has got to be settled with Iraq and if you’re going to have constant advice to go out and buy tape and plastic sheeting, you know it just creates a mood that certainly isn’t positive for consumers going out and shopping.”